Champlin’s update: some stand by, some get to work

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 5:45pm
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After all the drama around Champlin’s Marina that occupied much of the past two months, things have settled down for the time being, as the new owners prepare for summer.

First was the news in November that Champlin’s then-owner Joe Grillo had appealed the February 2020 decision denying the dock expansion first applied for in 2003 to the R.I. Supreme Court. Then came the news that Champlin’s was sold on Dec. 23, and right on top of that, that Champlin’s attorney, Robert Goldberg, and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council had gone through mediation behind the backs of the Town of New Shoreham, and all of the intervenors involved in the case. Although they had been invited to mediate, the town was told that if they did not wish to participate, there would be no mediation.

That mediation resulted in a memorandum of understanding between the two parties that was signed in an executive (closed) session of the full CRMC on December 29. If granted by the R.I. Supreme Court, Champlin’s would have the right to extend 156 feet farther into the waters of the Great Salt Pond, in close proximity to the navigation channel and the town mooring fields.

The deal was so controversial, especially as some of the CRMC members were coming up for reappointment to their positions, that R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha petitioned the Supreme Court to become an intervenor on Feb. 8. On Feb. 12, The Times learned that the court accepted his petition. Neronha said in a statement: “I am pleased with the Court’s decision to grant our motion to intervene in Champlin’s Realty Associates versus the CRMC. As an intervening party in this case, my office is seeking to protect Rhode Island’s unique coastal environment and ensure that the CRMC follows a fair, transparent, and legal process when considering any proposal by Champlin’s to expand its marina.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell was interviewed on Feb. 19 by Gene Valicenti on his program “10 News Conference,” and when asked about “what’s going on in Block Island,” he responded: “Well, we have a mediation program. The Block Island case is not part of that program. That was a private mediation and that’s an active case in front of us right now.”

The R.I. Supreme Court only agreed to take on the appeal in November, making it very early in the court process. Attorney Dan Prentiss, who has represented the intervenors in the case, which include the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, and the Block Island Conservancy, since the very beginning, told The Times that the Attorney General’s memorandum would be presented in court on Thursday, March 11 and that Champlin’s would have the opportunity to file its response.

“There is no deadline in the rules for when the Supreme Court has to act on motions such as these,” said Prentiss. “We just stand by and wait.”

New owners get to work

As all this plays out in the courts, the new owners of Champlin’s are forging ahead and getting it ready for a May 1 opening. The resort was purchased by a newly-formed limited liability company under the umbrella of The Procaccianti Group. Champlin’s is the first marina in TPG’s holdings, and the real estate investment company has formed TPG Marinas, which they describe as a “nautically-anchored hospitality and marina management affiliate.” In turn, TPG Marinas has hired Michael Hartman as Director of Integrations and Operations as well as the General Manager of Champlin’s Marina and Resort.

Hartman came from Key West, Florida where he was, most recently, the General Manager of Stock Island Marina Village, although he grew up on a farm in Indiana. He has an interest in sustainability and alternative energy and has done consulting in those fields.

He has an uphill battle at Champlin’s. Both the buildings and the docks are badly in need of repairs. He got right to work on applying for and obtaining a maintenance certification on January 29 from the CRMC for repairs to buildings and then in mid-February another permit for dock repairs.

The Block Island Times was invited to take a tour of the area with Hartman on Friday Feb. 26. At this point in time most of the hotel rooms, scattered between three buildings, have been gutted and are in various stages of refurbishment. The same goes for the employee housing, which is along the perimeter of the old theater building. There were work crews from the mainland working on the exterior down by the docks. There was the hum of power tools, the smell of fresh paint, and the gleam of new plumbing fixtures all competing for attention with the bright sunshine and brisk wind of a February day.

With a mere two months to go before the targeted opening date, and with it being in an historic district, there is little that can be done, besides interior improvements and exterior repairs. For its first application to the Historic District Commission, addressing new windows and trim, the commissioners tabled the discussion until they could perform a site visit, and see samples of materials proposed. But still, the company is doing as much as possible to update the looks and atmosphere at Champlin’s without razing any buildings and erecting others.

Hartman told the Times that the public can expect a more “toned down” resort experience – especially in regards to the bar-over-the-water, Trader Vic’s. Hartman said the bar would not be open as late into the night as previously, and would not be playing music amplified to the extent that it would disturb boaters in the town mooring fields.

Another attempt to make the marina a bit more laid-back will be eliminating rafting at the docks. (For non-boaters, rafting is when boats are tied together, side-by-side so that one has to climb over one boat to get to another, or to the dock.) Hartman said he didn’t feel it was a safe practice, and instead a modified version of “Med mooring” would be used along the outer docks that form what can be described as wings.

Hartman also told the Times that he didn’t feel the current layout of the docks was very efficient or practical, although he dodged the question of whether TPG would pursue an extension of the docks into the Great Salt Pond if the memorandum of understanding reached between the former owner of Champlin’s and the CRMC is approved by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

There are some grand plans for the grounds, including the elimination of parking down by the docks – only delivery and service vehicles will be allowed down there. Some of the pavement on the drive down will be ripped up and replaced with landscape plantings, and other existing paved areas will be turned into outdoor seating areas for a new ice cream shop, and a new cafe and bakery that Hartman hopes will incorporate retail wares for sale from local, Block Island artists and craftspeople.

There will be no movie theater this year, and most likely it is closed forever as people’s choices for entertainment have changed with technology. The tennis courts may also have seen their final days and will, most likely, be turned into parking.